Child sexual abuse as a phenomenon

​In brief

In a Finnish survey conducted in 2013, 4 per cent of young people attending grade nine of comprehensive school said they have had sexual experiences (e.g. fondling, touching of genitals, intercourse or requests to engage in some sexual act) with adults.

According to chapter 20 of the Finnish Criminal Code, child sexual abuse is defined as sexual acts performed on a child or adolescent younger than 16 years of age (in some cases, such as with mentally disabled people, the age limit is 18), the acts being conducive to impairing the child's or adolescent's development. Child sexual abuse can take many forms and include a variety of sexual acts or propositions. Sexual acts include, for example, touching of genitals, intercourse or showing pornographic films to a child/adolescent. Therefore the definition of child sexual abuse does not presume physical contact with a child. Sexual abuse can also take place via the Internet or mobile phones (e.g. sexual grooming on the Internet) or the child's images can be used in pornographic publications. Buying sexual services from a minor and an attempt of child sexual abuse are also punishable.

Cases of child sexual abuse have not become more common or serious

Child sexual abuse receives quite frequent media coverage, which may lead to the impression that sexual abuse has become more common. The number of cases reported to the police has increased in recent years. However, some of these reports are so-called false alarms. It is also possible that the increase in reported cases is explained by a heightened readiness to react to suspected abuse. In other words, a larger share of child sexual abuse cases is disclosed to the authorities. Extensive studies conducted in Finland indicate that child sexual abuse has not become more common when measured by the number of cases.
Comparison of results from the 1988, 2008 and 2013 studies reveals that for both girls and boys, the frequency of sexual abuse has clearly decreased. According to these studies, sexual abuse has become less serious and the emphasis has shifted from experiences involving physical contact to sexual propositions. The majority of children who had experienced sexual abuse were over 14 years old. Cases where the victim was under school age or sexual abuse occurred within the family were quite rare. Current research indicates that women are offenders only in a minor share of child sexual abuse cases.
A Finnish study published in 2011 also reported a slight decrease in sexual abuse. According to the findings, around 2–9 per cent of women and 1–4 per cent of men reported having experienced sexual abuse in their childhood. Younger generations reported less experiences of both sexual abuse and the related risk factors, such as other forms of mistreatment.

No reliable data exists on the occurrence of sexual abuse on the Internet

According to a Finnish study published in 2011, nearly a half of 16-year-old girls responding anonymously to an Internet survey had received sexually disturbing messages, images or videos from people who the respondents thought to be clearly older than themselves. The sample in this study is not representative, however, which might distort the results. While Finnish children, and especially adolescents, spend quite a lot of time on the Internet, it has also been noted that they are well aware of the risks on the Internet and have good safety skills.

Sexual abuse occurring on the Internet may include for example the following:

  • Grooming and child sexual abuse, for example in social media
  • Production, possession and distribution of indecent visual material portraying a child under 18 years of age
  • Social networking (communities, forums) between people interested in sexual pictures of children or child sexual abuse